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Group wide strike ballot to be held at Johnston Press

National Union of Journalists members working for Johnston Press newspapers are to hold a nationwide strike ballot next month.

The move comes in the wake of the introduction by JP of the Atex content management system which allows reporters to write stories and headlines directly onto template pages, reducing the need for sub-editors.

Members will be asked whether they wish to engage in full strike action, or industrial action short of striking such as only working contracted hours.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear told HTFP: “We are currently consulting with all our chapels across Johnston Press about which ones will take part. We are pretty confident almost all of them well.

“That would therefore mean hundreds of our members ranging from bigger places with around 120 members to smaller ones with 20 or 30. It will be a couple of weeks before the consultation starts.

“We are not against multi-skilling and the Atex system per se. What we’re against is the way it’s being implemented with not enough staff and not enough training.

“People are having to take on extra work or hours and with the system not doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s our feeling that many jobs are being cut with compromises on quality and compromises on the health and well being of staff.”

NUJ members at JP’s titles in Blackpool have already held action short of striking this month while members at Sheffield and Scarborough are currently being balloted over possible action because of a proposed new subbing hub in the South Yorkshire city.

And today we reported that the NUJ chapel at the Halifax Courier had sent a protest letter to JP chief executive John Fry about the new Atex system.

Johnston Press had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.


Paul (30/03/2010 15:45:44)
As an ex editor I am horrified at reporters putting unsubbed stories direct onto pages and writing their own headlines. The libel risks must be enormous. What checking systerms is JP putting in place, and who will be doing the checks – reporters or subs? Anyway, the whole idea of deleting the subs is madness, dreamed up by bean counters who have no idea about how to produce good, safe newspapers.

archie (30/03/2010 16:42:02)
As an ex-JP editor, can I just say I agree with everything Paul has said – particularly the last part.

Sub-standard (31/03/2010 14:49:20)
Imagine a complicated, and high-maintenance production assembly plant, with a department that deals with quality control, checking each widget and sprocket as it goes through the manufacturing process for defects; and removing any duds in order to ensure that the product in question was rolled out at a uniform standard of quality.
Now consider what would happen if the quality control department was completely disbanded, and the production like was simply left to it’s own devices, sending out widgets and sprockets straight to the shops without any form of checking process….
We can get the same effect if we remove subs from the editorial process and force reporters and branch editors to do their job alongside their own.
To answer Paul’s question, the ‘checking process in place’ consists of reporters and branch editors basically bodging together their own pages with little or no third-party scrutiny, and sending them straight to press on a wing and a prayer! God help us!
Since the introduction of Atex I’ve seen pages that make me want to hold my head in shame. Burst copy, burst headlines, wrong type faces and styles, appallingly shoddy presentation, inappropriate, ill-considered or ridiculously generic headlines (things like ‘Victory for team’ used as a lead on sport pages), unsubbed copy filled with typos, spelling errors and lousy grammar.. you name it, it’s there. No legal problems as of yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
Of course you can sometimes catch these appalling, scruffy pages and duff storys before the reporter hits the Output button, and sends it to press and try and make it half-presentable… but it involves having eyes in the back of your head! Even if the work load allowed us the luxury of catching and checking each and everything done outside the subbing pool amidst all the the various titles… things slip through the net with depressing frequency, and all that can be done (for your own sanity) is accept that your standards have been compromised by circumstances beyond your control, and strive to do the best job you can on the pages you ARE responsible for.
… ‘Course, if they decide to just dump the lot of us onto the dole within the next few months, even that small safety valve will go out the window. I can’t imagine what the readers think when they see these appalling, scruffy pages in front of their eyes?

realist (31/03/2010 18:19:41)
I never know whether those who wail loudly about inaccuracies and mistakes creeping in to print deliberately sprinkle their posts with errors to prove a point or are shooting themselves in the foot in the rush to rubbish new systems. What do you reckon, Sub-standard?
I’ve been around the block a few times and the hot metal pages on my first paper were nothing to write home about, my first attempts at casting off and then at full page make-up using Quark would make me blush now – every time there is a new system it takes some getting used to, but the show goes on.
The central theme from the defenders of the sub’s black art is that reporters are rubbish and can’t be trusted -they need someone in a grey cardigan picking over every word, or we will live to regret it. Rubbish. Reporters – with some honourable exceptions – need to get more professional, so that the next stage in the process is about monitoring and double-checking rather than doing re-writes from scratch. Reporters who can’t marshall basic facts in a clear and concise way and communicate using decent English shouldn’t be in a job, it’s as simple as that.
Subs have caused as many legals and other nasties – cock-ups in captions, anyone? – as reporters ever have, and in any case most smaller weeklies haven’t had dedicated subs for years.
No system is ever ideal – but I’ll take Atex or similar, with all its manifest shortcomings, to long nights on the stone begging inkies to make corrections any day.
Don’t these moaners have any memories of how things used to be?